State of Nevada, Courts Give Trans People Some Justice

Here is a sentence we don’t get to write very often: this has been a relatively good news week as far as trans issues, so far at least! I say “relatively” because all of the “good” news is really “partial rectification or acknowledgement of previous bad things,” but I guess it’s better than it not happening at all?

First of all, the horrific attack on a trans woman at a Maryland McDonald’s that was, for reasons no one will ever be able to satisfactorily defend, videotaped instead of stopped immediately? The eighteen- and fourteen-year-old who were videotaped beating her is have been indicted on assault and hate crime charges. The older woman, Teonna Brown’s, lawyer appears to be currently relying on the claim that the videotaped assault was in self-defense; this seems unlikely, as there were two attackers and one attacked twenty-two year old woman, and also considering that Brown was arrested for assault at the same McDonald’s last year.  Criminal charges won’t change what happened to Chrissy Polis, but maybe they will send some kind of message that hate crimes are at least sometimes taken seriously by the justice system.

In a depressingly similar story, a former Memphis police officer has been sentenced to two years in prison, also for beating a trans woman. (And also for tax evasion?)

Bridges McRae was convicted of violating the rights of Duanna Johnson while the transgender woman awaited booking on charges of prostitution. McRae admitted to unjustifiably striking her numerous times at the Criminal Justice Complex.


Duanna Johnson was tragically murdered a little over a year after her beating by McRae and one other police officer. Some speculated that the murder was a reaction to her unrelenting campaign to hold the Memphis police department responsible for their actions. It almost wasn’t successful – if her beating hadn’t been caught on video, like Chrissy Polis’s, it’s likely McRae would never have been convicted for it.

“The shock value of that video was incredible,” said Arthur E. Horne III, one of the lawyers who represented Ms. Johnson in a threatened federal civil rights lawsuit against the city, the Police Department and the officers involved in the attack.

The video was splashed across the Internet. The Memphis police director, Larry Godwin, said the crime left him “sick” and “infuriated.” Mayor Willie W. Herenton called the attack “disgusting” and promised to enforce any punishment doled out by the judicial system. The Federal Bureau of Investigation also opened an inquiry into the case to check for possible civil rights violations.

While these stories are, in their way, validating and reassuring (while also being completely infuriating), they likely won’t translate to measurable change in quality of life or safety for trans people. What might, however, is this: the Nevada Assembly has given final approval for a bill expanding employment protections to include gender identity and expression to the state’s governor. Even better, there are two more trans protection bills in the pipeline:

SB331 prohibits discrimination against a transgender person in any place of “public accommodation,” such as a store, bar or restaurant. SB368 would prohibit discrimination against transgender people in housing transactions such as renting or selling a home.

Nevada’s example may actually be one that makes a difference, both for the people living in its state and the rest of the country, especially if SB331 and SB368 are passed; those would be more extensive protections than most other states in the union. Regarding Duanna Johnson’s murder, Shelby County chairman of the Tennessee Equality Project said that Memphis is still “a sleepy Southern town,” and reminded us that prejudices still remain. Nevada is an example that any place and any community can work to overcome prejudice and inequality, no matter how sleepy or Southern or stubborn; hopefully, people will start to listen.


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Rachel is Autostraddle's Managing Editor and the editor who presides over news & politics coverage. Originally from Boston, MA, Rachel now lives in the Midwest. Topics dear to her heart include bisexuality, The X-Files and tacos. Her favorite Ciara video is probably "Ride," but if you're only going to watch one, she recommends "Like A Boy."

Rachel has written 1028 articles for us.

9 Comments

  1. How many tragedies does it take to make a law?

    +1 for Channel 3’s presentation (and correct use of pronoun). Disappointing to hear her own mother still refer to her as “he”, but…well…at least she was on her child’s side.

  2. I really want to read this, but I can’t right now because holy fuck, I am not in a safe headspace to read about transphobic violence right now. That said, thank you so much for covering these stories, though. It means a lot to a lot of people.

  3. “While these stories are, in their way, validating and reassuring (while also being completely infuriating), they likely won’t translate to measurable change in quality of life or safety for trans people.”

    Quoted for truth! Damn, are these words ever true. It fucking sucks that there even needs to be justice done for shit like this, but at least there *is* justice being served (at least partly, since if I’m reading this right Ms. Johnson’s murderer still hasn’t been caught).

    I’m so tired now. I just wish so hard none of us had to live in a world where shit like this happens.

  4. man. Don’t you hate it when things are so bad, that the good news still makes you sad?

    Still, I am glad that some people have managed to act like human beings in the face of inhumanity.

  5. The governor of Nevada is a republicon, so that bill isn’t over the final hurdle by a long shot.

    As to Duanna Johnson, the FBI or some external organization needs to take over the case because it’s very clear the Memphis DA refuses to acknowledge that Duanna’s execution-style murder might very well have been done by cops who were angry at her.

  6. i’m not sure what makes me sadder anymore, reading about these terrible hate crimes or reading about these “triumphs” that shouldn’t even have to take place in the first place, and that are just a drop in the bucket.

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